Have you ever considered starting your own welding business? Like any business it is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it is a very risky proposition. New businesses are prone to failure but if you are careful, plan your business well, and work hard then you will be able to beat the odds and have a very successful business. There is always a need for welders in many fields, so it is very possible for you to build a successful business, perhaps one that you can even pass on to your own children.
When you are trying to start a business, try to find 5-10 machine shops that only have 2 or 3 workers. Leave a business card and a small welding sample. Try to be creative but don't go too over the top. You want to be remembered, not classified as "the weirdo who came in the other day."
Many of these small shops have people able to weld but who are more machinists than welders. When they have larger orders come in that require welding, it could easily be above their skill level. In those cases, they will call you to come in and do the work. Why? Because it is much more profitable for them to buy the materials, call you to do the work and pay you than it is for them to buy the materials then have the project messed up because they do not have a welder who has the needed skills. They will only need to buy the materials once instead of two or three times.
This is a good way to get a leg up in welding, learn about negotiating, sharpen your skills, and maybe even pick a thing or two up about running your own shop. One of the biggest things for you to learn is how to price the jobs you do. Always set a minimum price. If you feel that the lowest you want to be paid for any project is $25, then that is your minimum price. Make a statement on your business cards, flyers, or on a sign if you have a place you work out of (like a garage) that states your minimum price. A simple statement of "Minimum fee for a job is $25." can go a long way towards helping you avoid jobs that are simply not worth your time.
There will come a time when you will want to branch out and be able to have enough work that you don't have to work anywhere else. A minimum price will help with that but you have to be able to price other jobs as well. You will learn with experience what prices will work well for what jobs, and what your time is worth. Never underestimate yourself and work for less than your skills and your time is worth.
Labor only jobs are usually easier to price and that is where working as needed for machine shops comes in handy. You do not have to buy materials and in some cases you do not have to buy the machines either. All you have to do is figure out how much you feel you should charge for the job. This saves you the risk of buying materials and then never being paid for the job.
For an example, a good rule of thumb if you are doing tig welding is to charge a dollar for an inch of welding and an additional dollar for every tack weld. This is a fair price for you and for the machine shop you are helping out. For something like pipe welding or anything else that requires multiple passes, you should remember to charge for all the passes. If the item you're welding is 8 inches per pass, needs three passes, and has three tack welds, then you would charge $27. Not bad for you if it's an easy job, nor for the shop that doesn't have to worry about ruined materials. Price mig welding or stick welding in a similar way based on what you feel your time and skills are worth, but be careful not to price your services so high you price yourself out of the market.
If you want to buy your own machines, then try to find used machines that are in good condition. This can save you a good deal of money. Many welders find that Miller equipment is the best way to go because of the customer support. Others find they can get great deals on bidding sites for their equipment. Make sure you are able to find all the tools you need such as rods, a welding table, and consumables.